Going From Toxic to Terrific: How to Establish a Better and Healthier Relationship With Your Phone

You wanna know something radical? Something unheard of nowadays?

I deleted the Instagram app off of my phone. Not just two seconds ago. DAYS ago.

That app has never left my phone since I installed it in January 2012. (I only know the date because it was literally the first thing I installed on the first iPhone I got. Anyone remember the days when that was the only smartphone OS it was on?) It’s been a week since I banished it, and I’ve logged into Instagram (through a web browser) a whopping THREE times since then, compared to 15+ times every day, before I deleted the app. Wild, right? Maybe not for some of you, and if that’s not shocking for you then I have a feeling this article isn’t for you — but for those of you who are like “whaat?? how the heck are you conducting this sorcery?” and want a better relationship with your phone, you can read on.

Have you ever thought about how many times a day or week you log into a social app? How many times you do it automatically?

How many times you pull it up just to see what’s new from 90 minutes ago? How many times you open it in hopes you’ll see something exciting? (e.g., a comment, DM, etc.)

I have. And it was mind boggling what my numbers looked like. It’s likely that mine are a lot higher, since I use social media platforms as a marketing strategy for work, but yours are probably considerable too. I finally got so sick of how ingrained the habit became of me checking Instagram (often for nothing — I’d check it JUST to check) that I decided to do away with it completely, at least for a week or two. Give myself a chance to recalibrate and focus on what was happening offline, before deciding if I really wanted it to have a place on my phone again.

Not only have I deleted insta off my phone, but I’ve also taken a bunch of other apps off too, and drastically minimized the amount of time I spend looking at my screen every day. A few weeks ago I polled my Instagram audience and a whopping 88% of them agreed that they also have a toxic relationship with their phones, so I thought I’d share about my experience in making that healthier in hopes that you can take something away from it.

It’s pretty crazy that something designed to make our lives easier has also been purposely designed to suck up as much of our attention & energy as possible. And yes, individuals leading the tech giants have confirmed that’s one of their objectives. But that doesn’t mean that it has to suck up our time.

Like any addiction (yup, that’s what it is), the first (and often most critical) part of changing your phone habits is being aware that there is a problem and that you actively want to fix it.

None of this will do anything for you if you aren’t in that headspace. Second, you need to take a long, hard look at the screen time stats on your phone. (both iPhone and Android offer this in their OS, but Moment is a great third party app for the same function). If your daily screen time hours are topping 3-4+ hours (no judgement! mine was regularly at 4-5hrs/day) I would challenge you to think about what you’re really accomplishing in that time. Check out the categories and apps you use most. Are you truly getting things done and being productive? Or are you pulling something up to look at one thing and then getting sucked into a black hole habit loop for an hour wondering where the time went?

Really check in with yourself and try to pinpoint what you’re feeling as you’re about to pick up your phone. What you’re feeling when you open it, when you’ve spent 10 minutes scrolling on it. Are you anxious? Do you feel unsatisfied? Are you restless? If you are, all of those things are totally normal. Try to focus on asking yourself those questions every time you go to pick up your phone. And before you do, check in with yourself again: What am I opening my phone to do? What am I trying to accomplish? Be brutally honest with yourself.

One thing that was really helpful for me in the beginning of my detox (besides deleting all the problem/time-suck apps) was following Catherine Price’s advice in her book, How to Break up With Your Phone (a really great resource for hands-on help!), and creating a prompt for myself to ask three questions:

  1. What For? what am I picking my phone up to do?
  2. Why Now? why am I picking up my phone now instead of later?
  3. What Else? what else could I do right now besides check my phone?

In her book, she suggests memorizing those questions and asking yourself them every time you reach for your phone. A step past that would be taking photo of them and setting it as your lock screen, so you see it every time you wake your phone up.

I took it a few steps further and not only wrote it out on a piece of paper, but I laminated it and secured it to the front of my phone with a rubber band so I’d see it even without waking the screen.

  • BONUS: a physical note like this will block most of your screen so you won’t be tempted by notifications!

A smiling woman holds her phone up to the camera.

Trust me, I know how hard it is to break the vicious habit loop of checking your phone three times every hour, but once you do, it is so freeing! Once I’d deleted Instagram and Facebook off my phone, and moved my email app off my homepage, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulder: I had nothing left to mindlessly scroll. And mind you, mindlessly scrolling is never something I really want to do; I just kind of get pulled into it. So it felt pretty amazing to know I’d freed myself of that loop – and also freed up my time for more productive and offline things!

Those two things (deleting tempting/toxic apps and being WAY more mindful of my habits/emotions) really set the bar for my new and better relationship with my phone.

The jury’s still out on if I’ll ever let Instagram return to my phone. Maybe in a few weeks when my self control returns to normal levels! So far, my screen time and phone pickups are down a MASSIVE amount from last week before I implemented the changes I covered here. Like, 65%. That translates to about 3-4 hours or so. every. single. day. WILD. And you wanna know something else? It feels freaking amazing.

By the way — all of this is still possible if you rely on using screens and your phone for work.

This is about maximizing the time you DO spend in front of your phone, not banishing it forever. Deleting apps off your phone and staying away from your phone as much as possible doesn’t mean you can’t have an online presence. There are so many programs and sites out there that offer ways for you to publish content from your computer! Tailwind is a favorite for me (for both Instagram and Pinterest), but there’s also Later, Hootsuite, Planoly… the list goes on.

If you can do all of these things, you’ll be well on your way to a better relationship with your phone! You got this!!

So, what’s your relationship like with your phone? Are you already an ace at managing it? Did these tips shed some light on issues you didn’t even realize were there? Comment below with where you’re at and if this helped you — I want to hear from you!!

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